Tag Archives: Bird photography

Birding northern France

I spent three days in late April 2023 exploring and birding northern France.  I did venture an hour and a half south of Calais to Crécy Forest in search of Black woodpecker as well as some brief explorations of marshland around the Pont-le-Dien  and Sailly Bray, Hable d’Ault and the Marquenterre bird reserve.

I didn’t see Black Woodpecker though it always felt like looking for a needle in a haystack, in fact I was surprised how thin on the ground woodpeckers seemed to be with only a little evidence of Green and Great spotted here. Crécy Forest did have easy Hawfinch, Tawny owl and singing Golden oriole as well as Short-toed treecreeper and Tree pipit but nothing to keep me in the area for more than an evening and morning.

Short-toed treecreeper

The Marquenterre bird reserve was very crowded and I skipped it, however Crested tit and Short-toed treecreeper were easy in the car park as well as Green hairstreak butterfly.

Crested Tit below and Green hairstreak butterfly above

The track west of Salley bray gives views over marshland towards Le Dien river and produced the only White stork of the trip. Cattle, Little and Great white egret were easily seen here as was Marsh harrier throughout.

White stork – which was ringed as it turns out in 2019 not all that far away.

The above aside I was surprised to find I spent much of my time in the nature reserve and dunes areas to the east of Calais and west of Dunkirk. The National Nature Reserve Platier Oye and the dunes, lagoons and beaches here were all simple to explore, easy to access and vast, various well positioned hides around the area helped greatly and it really had a feel that you could devote several days to the area and still turn up new birds. The sheer number of birds around gave it a great feel.

Black-winged stilts

Everything I write is from the perspective of a birder of southern England and mostly Hampshire.  So, to me birds like Nightingale, Lesser whitethroat, and Yellow wagtail are notable, here these quickly became background birds that are everywhere.

Yellow wagtail

Similarly, the lagoons and scrapes held tens of Ruff and the skies were filled with Hirundines.  The trees near the carpark had a singing Short-toed treecreeper. Birds aside I also saw Hare, Natterjack toad and the forever croaking calls of Marsh frog.

Natterjack toad

Other birds that may get a British birders pulse racing at least a little, such as Black-winged stilt quickly became background birds also. There were tens of them across the various pools and many were nest building and mating. Avocet were far less common with just a handful seen.

A courting pair of Black-winged stilts

A quick look at the beach in the hope of Kentish plover didn’t disappoint where there were also Wheatear and Ringed plover. 

male Kentish plover

The lagoons held at least three Garganey and other waders included Whimbrel, Black tailed godwit, Turnstone, many many Ruff, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Common sandpiper, Oystercatcher and so on. Mediterranean gulls were frequent and there is a large colony of breeding Sandwich tern. I picked out a Little Gull among the BHGs and another treat from a southern UK birders perspective was at least four summer plumaged Black-necked grebe.

Black necked grebe above and

Black-winged stilts with background male Garganey below

The vast area of dunes and impenetrable scrub must attract far more birds than get seen here but it was alive with singing warblers including Whitethroat and Lesser whitethroat, Willow warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Add to the list reeling Savi’s warbler a minimum two Wryneck at least two Zitting Cisticola and all this to a backdrop of Nightingale song and it felt a long way from Hampshire, but I was less than three hours away, shuttle crossings all being well.

Gallery below of just some of the species photographed on this three day trip. Please click and scroll through them.

Richard Ford – Digitalwildlife.co.uk

Malta as a Birding Destination

Nature Haven or Naturalist’s Nightmare

A few days on a non-birding holiday in the Maltese islands with my wife did hold a few interesting birds from a British birders perspective. Early March is the start of the migration season and soon passage birds like Marsh harrier become of interest to hunters sadly.

Knowing well that this was the case I didn’t expect to see much and I only spent a few hours over the week actually looking. However I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst the islands do seem at first glance devoid of birdlife (in the uk you can’t really travel any distance without seeing birds of some sort in the sky or in the trees) on closer inspection there is more than the first impression of simply sparrows and feral pigeons. For a start the majority of the sparrows are Spanish sparrows.

Spanish sparrow  (Passer hispaniolensis)

Birdlife Malta are clearly doing some excellent work here in the face of what must feel like a demoralising uphill struggle against the want of the hunting fraternity on the islands. I would encourage anyone reading this to support their work however you can. If you plan to visit the islands do visit the reserves that they manage and you will find them to be little oasis in the bustling busyness of industry that seems to have consumed much of the islands.  https://birdlifemalta.org/nature-reserves/

The first reserve I visited (Għadira Nature Reserve  https://birdlifemalta.org/nature-reserves/ghadira/ ) has some shallow freshwater and islands that immediately looked interesting.  In a few months I’m told breeding Black-winged stilt here is likely. The open water swarmed with House martin and Barn swallow as I arrived. It was early March so few of these birds have yet to reach the uk, but clearly spring starts earlier here

I had come to Malta having done no real prior research regarding the birds I was likely to see. As I said this wasn’t a birding holiday and perhaps naively, I’d assumed there was little to see anyway, given what I knew about the hunting. Of course, my bins and camera had come along just in case 🙂 It was also nice in many ways to discover what was here rather than see what I expected. Beyond the pigeons and sparrows, I found the next most common species all over the islands to be White wagtail, Black redstart, Zitting cisticola and Sardinian warbler. There were also Cetti’s warbler, Blackcap and Chiffchaff around and about.

White wagtail (Motacilla alba)

I settled in one of the basic hides having had a brief chat with the knowledgeable and friendly staff at the visitor’s centre and scanned the promising looking habitat with bins. A Shelduck was present along with a feral Muscovy duck. The water’s edge looked good for waders but I had no idea what to expect here in Malta or at this time of year. I quickly picked up a Little ringed plover along with two Common sandpiper and a Ruff, followed by a Little stint. From a British perspective a haul of pretty good birds for a short wander while my wife had a snooze in the car.

Ruff (Calidris pugnax)

We enjoyed various walks in some barren but interesting habitat over the next few days and I picked up further birds of interest such as Quail, which were heard regularly. Nightingale, Stonechat and, the apparently resident and fairly common in the right habitat here, but from a British perspective highly notable, Blue rock thrush, which we came across easily on Gozo.

Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

At the Salina Nature Reserve ( https://birdlifemalta.org/nature-reserves/is-salina/ ) the salt pans give food and refuge to many gulls and water birds through the seasons. The pans held many gulls, Black headed gulls, Mediterranean gulls and Yellow legged gulls mostly, as well as a few Sandwich terns and this decent looking area no doubt turns up good waders, gulls and waterfowl through the migration season and is a good spot to sky watch for raptors too. I suspect that in just a few weeks when spring migration really kicks off Malta would have a lot to offer a visiting birder, sadly the sound of gunfire will no doubt be a feature also.

At the Salina reserve I had a very informative chat with one of the Birdlife Malta staff who was only too happy to share his knowledge and explain the situation, It made me wish I could do more to help their work on these islands.

One thing I hadn’t realise is that the hunting here is driven by taxidermy. The prize of a pristine stuffed Black stork or similar can fetch in the region of 2000 euros apparently, and underground collectors will pay such sums on the black market. Despite some laws that protect some species from hunting it seems unlikely that many of the unscrupulous bloodthirsty hunters on the island care about either the out of season restrictions or the legislation protecting specific species.

Not a sign you tend to see on nature reserves in the UK

My new friend confirmed that a shoot first check later attitude is likely and that many of the eyes behind the guns don’t know the difference when it comes to female Aythya ducks for example and it’s unlikely they would care if they did. Sadly there is a trophy hunting mentally here, in that the rarer species, the protected species are therefore the more desirable from a black market taxidermy perspective and so ‘worth the risk’ if that is your mentality. It’s unclear how much enforcement there is when it comes to the laws around hunting here and what the punishments would be if caught or prosecuted. Recent government attitudes I’ve picked up on, would imply that Maltese politicians looking for votes are not unwilling to be swayed to the detriment of protected species. I suspect much like the game keepers who are willing to poison and trap birds of prey in the United Kingdom it is also considered ‘worth the risk’ because frankly that risk is small and equivalent to a slap on the wrist even if caught and prosecuted.

Links to a couple of Bird Life Malta posts showing the kind of heart wrenching situations they have to deal with every year here.



Sardinian warbler (Curruca melanocephala

If you go to Malta and enjoy seeing the birds, publicise it and talk about it to like-minded people and perhaps Malta can have an ecotourism industry that will change things. Support the work of Birdlife Malta and report any dead or injured birds that you see.


There is plenty of helpful information on their website and much, much more to see from a wildlife perspective than I was able to manage in early spring on a non birding holiday. But I would go back for more and I hope in some small way this post will help.

Maltese wall lizard (Podarcis filfolensis) unless anyone knows any different. Please do let me know.

Richard Ford

Malta – March 2022